A sweetheart to love us forever might be the dream, but the dream quickly loses its romantic edge when the reality of what long-term love really is arises.
Which is a pity, as long-term love comes with its own benefits and needn’t mean romance takes a back seat.
However, a recent YouGov survey confirms what couples in relationships that are long established know: “They get more practical over time, less ‘head over heels’ and stop saying ‘I love you’.”
Statistically, 70 per cent of the current adult population of Britain is in a relationship, and 46 per cent of British adults are married.
Many of the people surveyed admitted that the giddy feeling of butterflies in the stomach does leave after a few years, though just over one in ten of the respondents maintain that head-over-heels feeling.
One if five (21 per cent) say they still love their partner but that the ‘in love’ days of their relationship have passed, and a further one in ten (11 per cent) say that their relationship is now a more practical type of relationship with love no longer central to it.
The stages of love
Psychotherapy City psychotherapist Amanda Falkson says that the very nature of love is that it changes over the years as we change too, and it is wise for us to embrace these changes.
“If there are seven recognised stages of grief, maybe there are 77 stages of love! Right the way through our lives, from our first playground crush, how we feel for a significant other takes many different guises. Most of us over the years recognise that love changes and so do our needs and wants from intimate relationships.
“My concern is for those who are caught in the bind of expecting that swoony, first-flush honeymoon kind of love all the way through their relationships. It’s a set-up for failure because that’s not meant to last. It’s there to get us breeding and it’s a stage that hopefully develops into something deeper.
“As we grow older we tend to want a love that is supportive, trustworthy, reliable and companionable. It may not be as swoony but it can be just as sexy in its own way.”
No more I love yous
The survey also asked respondents about how often they say ‘I love you’ to their partners. Answers to this question firmly established that relationships that are between two and five years old are the ones where ‘I love you’ is said more frequently by the partners. More than half the respondents who have been with their partner for this length of time say these words every day.
By the time a relationship is more than ten years old, this figure drops to 33 per cent. In relationships that have stood the test of time for 50 years or more, the daily ‘I love you’ is whispered by only 18 per cent of people.
Retirement could be most romantic time of all
While the stats showing show that saying ‘I love you’ to each other tapers off the longer a relationship goes on for are disheartening, another question in the survey provided responses that put long-term relationships in the lead for a positive reason.
One if five retired people who are in long-term relationships say that retirement is the best time so far in their relationship. This is a percentage point more than the 19 per cent who say that the beginning of their relationship was the best, presumably when the head-over-heels feeling was very strong. Only 17 per cent said that the happiest time of their relationship was when they had children.
A quick vox pop of my own circle of contacts, in relationships of varying years and with me about to celebrate my tenth anniversary, revealed that most of us are happy with the state of our relationships.
Interestingly, my horror at the way saying ‘I love you’ falls off (which to my mind is an easy thing to keep going in a relationship of any period of time) was not shared by any of them. “Words are cheap,” said Vivien, 51, and married for 25 years. “It’s when you stop laughing together that you should worry.”
For the romantics out there though, national treasure Tom Jones has saved the day. His recent interview in the Sunday Times leaves no one in any doubt about the torch he still carries for Linda, the girl he married at 16. He is 75 and they’ve been married for 59 years.